Commanding an audience with confidence and professionalism as you deliver your speech or presentation is easier than you may think. Sure, confidence comes from the inside, but a well-versed speaker knows how to fight a bad case of nerves.
1. Dress the part: Your choice of attire can either reinforce or detract from your presentation. Wearing wrinkled pants, an ill-fitting skirt, or a jacket that is missing a button are obvious “don’ts” you’ll want to avoid at all costs. Your audience will notice, you’ll feel self-conscious, and the presentation will suffer.
2. Be tech savvy: Always keep a portable USB drive with a copy of your presentation on hand in case it fails to load properly (it doesn’t hurt to email yourself a copy as well). Remember to charge your laptop or iPad and have the necessary accessories (battery cord, projector, portable microphone, etc.) on hand. Arrive early to prevent technical disasters.
3. The eyes have it: Eye contact impacts a presentation in the same way a handshake can affect a business deal. Good eye contact is equivalent to calling someone by name and poor eye contact is similar to a letter without a signature. If you will need reading glasses to refer to your notes, make sure to bring a pair of glasses that compliments your professional style.
4. Stand your ground: Position 50% of your weight on one foot and the remaining 50% on the opposite foot. Avoid pacing, leaning and wandering without purpose. Walk with purpose and stay away from the exit door.
5. Posture: Exude confidence by holding your shoulders back, chin up, and moving your arms up and out from your waist. When you are not emphasizing a point in your speech, allow your arms to hang comfortably at your side. Practice in front of a mirror or have someone videotape your speech. Ask for honest feedback and don’t be offended by a candid response.
6. Ee-nun-cee-ate: Enunciating can feel uncomfortable at first but reading a newspaper or magazine article aloud is great practice. Finalizing the last consonant of each word will eliminate misunderstanding and keep your audience’s attention. Commonly slurred words include:
- “Inner-net”, Internet
- “Icetea”, Iced Tea
- “Goin”, Going
- “Li-berry”, Library
- “Ex-specially”, Especially
7. It’s how you say it: Imagine you are trying to hit a target at the back of the room with your voice. If you can accomplish that, you have projected enough volume for your entire audience to hear you clearly. Proper posture (as noted above) will allow for adequate airflow, increasing the clarity and strength of your voice. The combination of an impactful voice, a conversational tone, and well prepared content makes for a strong presentation.
8. Body language: If your words are flowing clearly but your hands are clasped to your thighs or swinging wildly, the audience will miss your message. The same confidence coming from your mouth should be present in your body language. Avoiding these saboteurs will help you disguise your nerves:
- Paddling – moving your hands below your hips in a circular motion
- Slapping or grabbing your thighs or arms
- Wringing your hands
- Fiddling with jewelry or your hair
- Crossing your arms
- Clearing your throat
- Touching your face or mouth
9. Apologies not accepted: Never apologize in advance for your nervousness, as it immediately reduces your credibility. The audience doesn’t need to have it announced to them that you’re uncomfortable. When in doubt, there is power in a pause. Admitting you briefly lost your train of thought or silently referring to your notes is much more comfortable for both you and your audience than stumbling over disorganized babble. Embrace your anxiety and use it as fuel.
10. A strong close: The closing to your presentation is just as important as the opening. Instead of stumbling to wrap up with an awkward, “Um, that’s all I have to say…any questions?” prepare a solid closing. A memorable quote and brief summary of your key points are both good ideas. Don’t forget to encourage last minute questions.
Preparation is key and putting the necessary time into your presentation will set you up for success!